Below are answers to common or important questions.

    Basic

  1. What does it mean that your systems are digital? Why is that important?
  2. I want to build a planetarium. Where should I start?
  3. Can I rent a system for my school or birthday party?
  4. Projection

  5. Can the same projection system be used in domes of different sizes?
  6. What is the maximum dome size recommended for a Digitarium system?
  7. What is the minimum dome size for a Digitarium system?
  8. Will stars be larger on a larger dome?
  9. How high a contrast ratio do I need?
  10. If I project a rectangular image, movie, or PowerPoint through your projector, what will it look like?
  11. Are your lenses distortion free?
  12. Do I need a 3D stereo projector for an immersive experience?
  13. Where do I put my projection system in a fixed dome?
  14. Product Comparisons

  15. What are the main differences between your Digitarium models? Do they do different things?
  16. Why are your systems so expensive?
  17. Why are your systems so affordable?
  18. Aren't there some patents related to fisheye projection?
  19. How can your systems be the best value when there are other systems on the market at similar or lower cost?
  20. How does a Digitarium system compare to a spherical mirror projection system?
  21. Why is a Digitarium system a better value than a higher resolution spherical mirror type system?
  22. What does it mean that some competing systems have truncated projection?
  23. How does your Digitarium Zeta or Epsilon Portable compare to the Digital Starlab projector?
  24. How does a Digitarium system compare to an analog Starlab projector?
  25. Software Features

  26. What software does a Digitarium system run? Can it run Starry Night, Celestia, The Sky, etc.?
  27. What differences are there between Nightshade and Stellarium?
  28. Can I save money by using my own computer with your systems?
  29. From what culture(s) are the constellation labels, line drawings, and artwork?
  30. I don't know anything about the Linux operating system. Will I still be able to use a Digitarium system?
  31. How do I get software and image updates?
  32. What formats are supported by the Digitarium system's multimedia player?
  33. Are prerecorded shows available for the Digitarium system?
  34. Inflatable Domes

  35. Can I use my Starlab dome with a Digitarium system?
  36. Can I set up a Digitalis dome outside?
  37. Is the Digitalis dome handicapped accessible?
  38. What is the procedure for an emergency exit from a Digitalis dome?
  39. General

  40. How can I see a Digitarium system in use? 
  41. Can someone at Digitalis help me apply for a grant or sponsorship?
  42. What kind of maintenance is required by the projector and dome? 
  43. Is there a warranty for your products?
  44. Purchasing

  45. How long does it take to get a Digitarium system or Digitalis dome?
  46. How do I find out if there is a local distributor in my country?
  47. I want to be a sales agent or distributor for your equipment. What do I need to do?

Basic

What does it mean that your systems are digital? Why is that important?

A digital planetarium system is a computer based system using digital projection, as opposed to an analog type pin-hole or lens based projection system. It is a huge difference, because a computer based system is so much more flexible than an analog system. Think of the difference between a computer and a slide projector and you start to see the power of a digital system.

In a digital system, the projected image is made up of individual pixels. Because the dome is covered by an array of pixels rather than a fixed set of holes or lenses, anything can be projected: views from other planets, videos, images, other applications. Analog systems can often produce smaller stars and higher contrast ratios, but without any of the flexibility of digital systems. So unless your goal is to try to match the night sky as closely as possible, and nothing more, you really need a digital planetarium system.

For more detail, see How does a Digitarium system compare to an analog Starlab projector?.

I want to build a planetarium. Where should I start?

Can I rent a system for my school or birthday party?

We do not offer system rentals, however there may be an outreach program near you that could meet your needs.


Projection

Can the same projection system be used in domes of different sizes?

Yes.  Our proprietary and exclusive lenses have almost infinite depth of field, which means there are no focus issues due to differing dome sizes, although brightness is an issue:

What is the maximum dome size recommended for a Digitarium system?

It depends on the Digitarium model. See the specification tables for fixed or portable systems. Your dome surface and projection content will also play a role in determining what model is acceptable.

Dual lamp models are brighter and can work in larger domes. With a dual lamp system in a smaller dome you can either have brigther projection, or use just one lamp and keep the other on standby for automatic failover. Our Digitarium Gamma, Epsilon, and Kappa projectors even support 24/7 operation in single lamp relay mode.

What is the minimum dome size for a Digitarium system?

Generally there is no minimum dome size.

Will stars be larger on a larger dome?

At the surface of the dome each pixel will be physically larger on a larger dome.  However, angular pixel dimensions do not change with dome size, so on average pixels do not appear larger to an audience.  Someone sitting next to the side of the dome will obviously see larger pixels nearby than on the opposite side of the dome due to their perspective.  Someone seated near the middle would not notice any difference other than brightness between domes of different sizes.

How high a contrast ratio do I need?

In a planetarium, it is somewhat distracting if the dark areas of a starfield are a dark gray rather than a full black. How black the dark areas appear depends on a number of factors, including the contrast ratio of your projector.

The contrast ratio of a projector is the ratio of the luminance of a white projection compared to a black projection. Digital projectors usually have much lower contrast ratios than analog projectors, which is just inherent to the technology differences.

The higher the contrast ratio, the darker the black areas are compared to the bright areas. With a low contrast ratio, blacks appear as dark gray rather than true black.

Typically a dome used with a digital projection system is painted gray to enhance black areas. This also helps reduce cross-reflection on the dome in bright scenes.

High contrast projectors are often too dim for use in a dome, or extremely expensive.

It is the black level luminance perceived by the audience that is what you should focus on, although selecting an acceptable level is subjective. The projector contrast ratio affects the black level, but there may be more cost effective ways to achieve the same effect with a lower contrast system.

If I project a rectangular image, movie, or PowerPoint through your projector, what will it look like?

Fisheye projectors will introduce a large amount of distortion if you project a standard perspective image or application at full projector resolution. By distortion we mean that the projected image is deformed from its natural shape.

In a Digitarium system a central circular area of the video source is projected onto the dome. The outer rim of the circle is projected at the horizon, and the center of the image is the zenith (top of the dome). This is called a polar projection.

If you projected a PowerPoint slide full of text at full projector resolution, you would see your text cover the entire dome, but half of it would be upside down as it wraps past the zenith.

However, since May, 2009 Digitarium systems have performed dynamic distortion correction, so you do not need to worry about this. Simply display your image in perspective projection mode. You can adjust the size, orientation, and placement of the image or video on the dome, and even mirror it on two sides of the dome for easier viewing by your audience. If you have a fisheye image or fulldome video, simply switch to fulldome projection mode with one button press.

Unlike some competing systems, you can easily go from media file to media file for a slide show type use, choose other drives or directories with a visual menu, or switch back and forth seamlessly between your media and the sky simulation. All of this is at your fingertips with our unbelievably easy to use remote control.

While we are on this subject, we should point out that fulldome applications and content are designed to immerse the audience in a 3D environment -- it is not possible to add this extra dimension to regular perspective content after the fact. So while you can show distortion corrected perspective content on the dome, it will not be the same as showing immersive fulldome content.

Are your lenses distortion free?

(Be sure to read the above question and answer also.)

As an affordability tradeoff, our lenses vary slightly from an ideal linear polar distortion. In most cases this will not be noticeable. The following two images illustrate this slight distortion (in this case for the discontinued Digitarium Alpha 2). If the first image was projected through the projector over the whole dome without any distortion correction, it would end up looking like we had projected the second image through an ideal distortion lens.


Pacific Science Center, Seattle

As you can see, the distortion is subtle. Your audience will generally experience a lot more distortion simply due to their perspective away from the center of the dome (where distortion due to perspective is zero).

Since May, 2009, dynamic distortion correction is performed on all content, so you will not see any lens distortion. The slight variation in pixel sizes across the dome is not noticeable.

If you need exact distortion for a custom fulldome application we can supply distortion functions.

Do I need a 3D stereo projector for an immersive experience?

No. There is a lot of hype around stereoscopic 3D dome projection systems. The audience must wear special glasses in order for each eye to see slightly different images, which produces the 3D effect.

We feel this is mostly another way for vendors to sell more hardware. A dome is already an immersive 3D environment, so there is no need to add awkward glasses and ever more complex hardware. Part of what makes the dome such a wonderful immersive experience is that you are not encumbered by any special equipment that restricts your field of view or movement. Add to this the benefit of experiencing this in a group setting. Any kind of motion on screen will produce the clear illusion of depth, and stereoscopic vision is not required.

Other things to consider:

  • In everyday life, your brain can only use stereoscopic vision within about 3m of your face. This is not your primary means of perceiving the dimensionality of the world around you.
  • Using the same projector, brightness can be reduced by 50% or more just to get each eye a separate image.
  • With a flat screen, the offset of each eye is easy to accomodate as the viewing position is known. With a dome, every audience member has a quite different position and can look in any direction -- that tends to result in poor results in large areas of the dome.
  • Some people are unable to view stereo 3D projections due to physiological differences (estimates are up to 12% of the population).
  • Glasses are easy to lose or damage and can be expensive to replace.

Where do I put my projection system in a fixed dome?

Ideally a Digitarium system is placed in the center of the dome, whether fixed or portable. However, most Digitarium systems support distortion correction for some amount of lens offset from the center of the dome to work around an existing starball or other obstacle. We offer an optional elevator mount system for our fixed dome Digitarium Gamma, Epsilon, and Kappa models.

Here are diagrams explaining how to calculate typical projector placement:

Most of our fixed dome systems are designed to be easy to install yourself, but we also offer professional installation services. Contact us for more information.


Product Comparisons

What are the main differences between your Digitarium models? Do they do different things?

All of our Digitarium models run the same software and have the same basic functionality. The main differences between the models are brightness, resolution, and projector quality.

See the specification tables for fixed or portable systems for details.

Why are your systems so expensive?

  • Our systems are more expensive than most portable analog projectors primarily because they are highly precise digital systems; digital components are more expensive than analog. However, they provide an enormous amount of flexibility for the price, and we feel that our systems easily justify their higher prices.
  • The cost of one of our planetarium systems and dome is comparable to some portable analog systems. For example, purchasing a Digitarium Delta 2 system and five meter Digitalis dome costs $27,100. A Starlab FiberArc projection system with 13 cylinders and a 5m Starlab Classic dome costs $26,550, yet the Starlab does not offer anywhere near the flexibility of the Delta 2. Even if you purchased all 43 currently available Starlab cylinders (at a total price of $57,380), you still would have nowhere near the teaching capabilities of the Digitarium Delta 2 despite spending nearly twice as much!

    See how we calculated these prices and a detailed comparison between the Starlab FiberArc and the Digitarium Delta 2.

Why are your systems so affordable?

  • Our prices are dramatically lower than most other digital fisheye planetarium systems.  Making educational tools that are too expensive for educators to afford does not advance the teaching of astronomy. We designed our systems from the beginning to be affordable to any institution.

    We also produce systems in much larger quantities than any of our competitors, thanks to the unrivaled popularity of our systems. That gives us savings in economies of scale that we can pass on in lower prices without compromising on quality. All our Digitarium systems are proudly designed and assembled in the United States from high quality domestic and imported components. Our proprietary lenses are designed and built in the USA to our high standards using the finest imported optical glasses.

    Because of our easy to use, high quality, reliable systems, our technical support costs are low. This allows us to keep our prices reasonable, yet offer incredible lifetime support for all of our systems.

Aren't there some patents related to fisheye projection?

There are a number of broad patents related to hemispherical projection systems. We do not believe that any of our products infringe on any valid patent claims in this area. As a precaution, we also have IP defense insurance coverage so that we can fully defend ourselves should the need ever arise.

How can your systems be the best value when there are other systems on the market at similar or lower cost?

We believe our Digitarium systems offer the best value on the market for serious astronomy educators. While we have quite affordable prices compared to many other vendors, prices can only go so low without seriously cutting corners. There are some bad systems out there that sound (and are) too good to be true.

Think of it this way: would you buy a $500 car?

A $500 car is extremely affordable. It probably looks bad, runs on the rough side, and you never know if it will take you where you want to go. The price per pound of such a car is amazing! Maybe 20 cents a pound.

But let's face it, at best this is an option for those who can not afford something that looks better, runs better, has lower maintenance costs, features like air conditioning, a warranty, etc.

Although extremely affordable, who would confuse a $500 car with being a good value?

And yet this mistake occurs all the time, and sometimes in the planetarium world, where affordability is confused with value. You can get the cheapest system on the market, but it almost certainly is not the best value for your money.

Conversely, we also see the situation where people think they need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a serious planetarium system. But most people don't need a $200,000 Ferrari to commute to work -- it's a status symbol more than anything else.

Value, of course, depends on your specific needs and uses. Figure out which characteristics are most important to you, then do your homework. See a few competing systems, try operating them, and speak to other customers before you decide if each system fits your needs.

Comparing systems based on things like the cost per pixel is as ridiculous as using price per pound when shopping for a car. Just as the quality and engineering of the components that make up the mass of a vehicle are what matter, it is the quality of the projected pixels and the features and support behind the system that matter, not how many total pixels there are per dollar.

This is counter-intuitive for most people, but a lower resolution, sharply focused image in fact looks much better than an image with, for example, twice as many pixels that are blurry, distorted, or dim. Below is an example of an even more extreme 4:1 resolution ratio (yes, that is a Ferrari).

The best value is logically the system that gives you the largest benefits at the lowest total cost of ownership. Do not neglect support and maintenance costs down the road.

Like a $500 car, affordable sometimes just means cheap.

How does a Digitarium system compare to a spherical mirror projection system?

Spherical mirror dome projection systems, such as MirrorDome developed at Swinburne University in Australia, consist of a portion of a spherical mirror, a data projector aimed at the mirror, and a computer running specialized software. The software has to "warp" each video frame before sending it to the projector in order to counteract the severe distortion from the mirror. After reflecting off the mirror images are projected onto a dome.

Spherical mirror systems:

  • are placed at the edge of the dome.
  • can project more pixels for a given projection resolution due to the mirror geometry.
  • do not cover the entire dome in the most common (brightest, highest resolution) configuration.
  • produce pixels which vary widely in size and focus across the dome.
  • use a first surface mirror that is extremely easy to damage by touching or even talking near! Go-Dome care instructions caution:
    [A]void touching the metalized [mirror] surface at all. At a minimum wear latex or vinyl gloves when handling to avoid leaving fingerprints. Whenever possible wear soft cotton or nylon gloves over the latex or vinyl ones. Turn your head to avoid talking over the mirror (minute amounts of saliva are often imperceptibly released into the air while talking) or wear a nose and mouth mask.
    Once you get something on the mirror it hurts the projection and is hard to remove without further damaging the mirror.
    [A]void abrasive contact with any object- the plastic [mirror] will easily (and permanently) scratch. This includes most cloth, paper towels, etc.
  • use off-the-shelf projectors to possibly allow local warranty and future upgrades (not all projector models work with spherical mirrors).
  • have a varying black level across the dome (varying black sky brightness, for example). Software luminance correction can't correct this.
  • can introduce some visual artifacts due to warping.

Warping artifacts arise when an original source video frame is warped and some detail has to be compressed, resulting in reduced image quality. This is more noticeable with starfields than with videos or images. Here is an illustration:

 
These are two screen shots of the constellation Grus. The first image is a fragment of a standard fisheye view in Stellarium 0.9.1, SXGA resolution, 180 degree fullscreen view. The second image is with the same configuration, but using the standard Stellarium mirror warping feature with the default configuration. Both fragments have been enlarged by a factor of two (with no interpolation). The Grus outline has an angular size of approximately 19 degrees.

The constellation lines have some odd warping artifacts, but also some of the dimmer stars are now almost invisible. Note that these are screenshots from the video frame before it even gets projected. Quality on the dome will depend on many factors, including the software you are using and how it is configured.

Single fisheye lens Digitarium systems:

  • are placed at the center of the dome.
  • project the full sky and a complete horizon for the most effective and easiest astronomy teaching.
  • do not require software warping. Projected pixels match the source frames, be they starfields or fulldome video.
  • project any fulldome application with no overhead or compatibility issues. Any standard fulldome application on any operating system can be used as a video source.
  • have essentially equal sized pixels across the entire dome.
  • have a user interface which is more ergonomic and easier to learn and use (backlit, handheld remote control).
  • take up significantly less space in the dome.
  • can update themselves automatically over the Internet on demand (free for the life of the system). No need to maintain software configurations, troubleshoot compatibility problems, manually apply upgrades, etc.
  • come with free technical support for the life of the system.
  • use off-the-shelf projectors to allow local warranty and service in most areas of the world.
  • are designed for high reliability with a solid state hard drive and no laptop computer.
  • are second and third generation products enhanced by feedback from users around the world.
  • set up faster.

Using a spherical mirror for planetarium projection has a number of drawbacks. In particular we would highlight the typical lack of full sky projection, lack of crisp focus, and bulky setup. Plus you miss out on the many benefits of a Digitarium, including the uniquely easy to use handheld remote control interface and absence of software maintenance headaches. For astronomy educators the sheer number of pixels projected is simply not the most important feature of a planetarium system.

A spherical mirror is an option to consider only if a fisheye planetarium system is out of reach. In that case you might put together your own system for a fraction of the cost of a pre-assembled system. Nightshade planetarium software, which we help develop, is free and already includes a spherical mirror warping mode. So all you need is a mirror, a compatible projector, a computer, and time to put it together. Here is a FAQ on the subject.

If you opt for a commercial spherical projection system, make sure it is bright enough for your dome size in the contrast mode you intend to use and that the warping is configured for your dome (to avoid distorted projection). We have seen some providers cutting corners with these types of systems. We highly recommend that you compare a few competing planetarium systems in person before making a purchasing decision. Be sure to insist on a written return policy with any commercial system so that you have an opportunity to return it if you are not happy with it!

Why is a Digitarium system a better value than a higher resolution spherical mirror type system?

While some Digitarium systems cost more than higher resolution spherical mirror systems, we believe that the following characteristics provide a much better value for serious astronomy educators (see also the above two questions):

  • Projection quality: We have never seen a single projector spherical mirror system that can focus on more than about half of the dome at the same time—no matter how high the projector resolution is. Eye strain can be a real issue, the focus can be so bad.
  • Durability: You can't permanently damage your Digitarium by touching it or talking near it, unlike sensitive first surface mirrors. See the above question for more detail on this. Digitarium lenses are easy to clean should the need arise with a lens cleaning kit.
  • Projection coverage: If you want to teach astronomy you really need the full sky. Mirror systems all seem to cut out portions of the sky to pump up the total resolution. That's OK for movies, but it's the wrong tradeoff for a planetarium where you want to immerse your students in the full sky. With a digital planetarium, resolution is actually not that important. That may sound heretical, but think about it: with a starfield most of the pixels are off, so a higher resolution only shrinks each star. At the resolutions we're talking about, that's hardly noticeable.
  • Effective Resolution: While mirror systems use more pixels, they waste a lot of these near the mirror due to the non-uniformity of the projection. Pixels on the far side of the dome are much larger than those near the mirror. With a Digitarium system all pixels/stars are similarly sized across the dome.
  • Usability: Our remote control interface offers the best usability on the market, yet it does not compromise on software capabilities. The ease of use reduces your training costs. Another advantage is that you are not tethered to your computer—you can teach from anywhere in the dome rather than being tied to a laptop and obtuse key commands or software interfaces. With a Digitarium system everything just works, you don't need to manually download, install, or configure any software. No matter what size dome you have, the sky will not be distorted and you can play any fulldome movie with no warping headaches.
  • Product support: We are one of the main developers of the software run by our Digitarium systems and we can offer unparalleled support. Historically most spherical mirror system sellers have used Stellarium, but NONE ever contributed to the project. At least with some sellers, software knowledge seems lacking, judging by the poorly configured versions that we have seen. Our three year limited warranty is longer than most of our competitors. Unique to Digitalis, we offer free technical support and free software updates for the life of each Digitarium system. There are no hidden long term support or maintenance contract costs.

So you can see why we believe we have the best value for an educational planetarium system. While it's easy to focus on resolution or up front costs when evaluating competing systems, it's very important to consider the true benefits and costs of ownership for your intended use.

We strongly recommend that you see a few competing systems in person and try using them yourself (really!) before making a purchase decision. We don't want to see more people make mistakes that are preventable with a little extra effort up front. It's just a fact that many systems can sound better on paper than they actually perform in the real world.

Want to see a Digitarium system near you?

What does it mean that some competing systems have truncated projection?

Systems with a truncated projection do not project over a full hemispherical dome -- some portions of the sky are not projected. Usually truncation is a tradeoff to reduce costs or improve resolution in the areas that are projected.

Digitarium Systems are true full-dome systems and project the entire sky with a full, uninterrupted horizon onto a dome. We feel that for astronomy education having a full sky projection is critical. The whole point of a planetarium is to immerse the audience in a full simulation of the night sky so that three dimensional concepts can be experienced first hand. Having empty black areas in the sky makes both teaching and learning in a planetarium more difficult for obvious reasons.

Here is a visual comparison of approximate sky coverage for 1.) a fulldome system such as a Digitarium, 2.) a spherical mirror system with a 4:3 aspect projector, and 3.) a truncated 4:3 aspect fisheye projection system. Red areas are areas with no projection coverage.

How does your Digitarium Zeta or Epsilon Portable compare to the Digital Starlab projector?

Based on publicly available information and staff viewing of the Digital Starlab at the March, 2010 NSTA National Conference, these are the most important differences that we see:

System Name

Manufacturer

Digitarium Epsilon

Digitalis

Digitarium Zeta

Digitalis

Digital Starlab

Science First

Advantage to... *

Resolution

1200 pixel diameter circle or truncated 1344 by 1200 circle

1200 pixel diameter circle

1200 pixel diameter circle

Digitarium Epsilon in truncated mode.

Tie between Epsilon in fulldome mode, Zeta, and Digital Starlab.

Base brightness (without fisheye lens)

7500 lumens

4000 lumens

4000 lumens

Digitarium Epsilon. Higher base brightness translates into more vivid colors and better star magnitude differentiation. Larger dome sizes are supported, or lamp brightness can be reduced for longer lamp life.

Angle of projection

155 degrees in fulldome mode; 180 by 155 degrees in truncated mode

175 degrees

190 degrees

Fixed domes: Digitarium Epsilon in fulldome mode, since it sits lower in the dome and is less likely to block sight lines than the other systems.


Portable domes: Most likely the Digital Starlab, although this depends on the lens height, which is not stated. If the lens is too low, the light shines in the eyes of tall audience members, making a 190 degree angle of projection a liability rather than an advantage.

Field of view

180 degrees (full sky)

180 degrees (full sky)

Tie. All three systems project a full sky/full horizon.

Projector designed for vertical use.

Yes (Barco F32) Yes (Panasonic PT-DZ570) InFocus in5318 manual and tech support say no, Science First says they have a letter from InFocus that says it is OK.

Digitarium systems.
Our projectors were intentionally designed to be used vertically, and there is no risk of burning through expensive lamps quickly due to this orientation.

Dimensions/weight of packed portable system

39 x 25 x 22 inches

(99 x 64 x 56 cm);

120.6 pounds (54.8 kg)

31 x 21 x 19 in

(47.5 x 52.5 x 77.5 cm);

95 pounds (43.2 kg)

39 x 30 x 20 inches

(99 x 76 x 51 cm);

132 pounds (60.0 kg)

Digitarium Zeta. It offers the smallest size and lightest weight of the three, which makes it easiest to move from site to site.

User interface type and notes

Two Options:

1) Handheld, backlit remote control

Advantages:

More intuitive and ergonomic.

Works from anywhere in the dome.

Computer control unit is user serviceable and thus easier to upgrade and maintain.

No computer operating system to learn or administer.


2) Universal Console web-based interface

Advantages over remote control:

  • Dynamic placement and manipulation (mirror, rotate, scale, etc.) of images or videos against the sky
  • Basic slide show functionality
  • All menus hidden from audience
  • Ability to select a celestial object by name from a sortable, filterable, and searchable database
  • Ability to play a soundtrack in the background
  • Adjust colors with a graphical color picker
  • Easy access to scripts, with comment display and error log
  • Hides absolutely any trace of their user interface from the audience to maximize the immersive experience.

Laptop


Advantages:

Control functions can be more easily hidden from the audience than with our remote control (this advantage is lost if the Universal Console is used).

Disadvantages:


Possible loss of projection quality due to light from laptop screen illuminating dome.


Complex interface makes it harder to concentrate on the audience.

Digitarium systems

Planetarium software

Nightshade®

Project managed under an open model by Digitalis with most development performed by Digitalis.

Starry Night Small Dome™

Proprietary, maintained by a third party.


Software licenses

Can be downloaded to as many computers as you like for free. See http://NightshadeSoftware.org

Three licenses included. Licenses for additional computers must be purchased.

Digitarium systems

Show/segment creation functions

Powerful StratoScript™ scripting feature which allows creation and sharing of shows or show segments with an optional audio track, video, and image manipulation.

HTML bookmarks or movie recording (no synchronized audio capabilities)

Digitarium systems. Scripting is much more flexible than bookmarks or movies.

Scripting is not required to use Digitarium systems, but the scripting language (created by Digitalis) is easy to learn; it does not require a programming background.

Number of stars in database

11,500,000 +

16,000,000

Digital Starlab

Number of deep space object images

100 +

13,000 +

Digital Starlab

Constellations from different cultures

Yes, more than a dozen cultures are included.

Greco-Roman only, per Science First at 2010 NSTA National Conference.

Digitarium systems

Internationalization

Labels and menus have been translated into approximately 70 languages.

Unknown language availability

Most likely Digitarium systems.

Operating system

Linux, open source

(Nightshade also runs on Windows and Mac)

Mac or Windows, proprietary

Digitarium systems. Linux is deservedly well known for its reliability, stability, performance, and security. Since the user interface is a remote control or web browser, you don't have to know anything about Linux to use a Digitarium system.

Software development

Digitalis develops and maintains all of the software on its Digitarium systems.

Science First does not develop any software on the Digital Starlab.

Digitarium systems. Because Digitalis maintains all Digitarium software, there are no compatibility headaches—the systems just work. Digitalis can also directly add features requested by our customers.

Audio support

5.1 channel surround sound

Stereo

Digitarium systems.

Projection quality


(We recommend that you experience the systems in person to see for yourself!)

  • Good focus over the entire dome.
  • No obvious color separation anywhere on the dome.
  • Fuzzy focus (hard on the eyes).
  • Significant chromatic aberration at the horizon (stars are stretched and separated into different colors).

Digitarium systems.


Software upgrades

Easy, automated software updates over the Internet are free for the life of Digitarium systems.

Database updates are free. It is unclear if software updates are included.

Digitarium systems.

Warranty/technical support

Three year limited warranty on entire system.


Free technical support for the life of the system.

Conflicting warranty information on product web site.



Free technical support for the life of the system.

Digitarium systems, based on available information.

System pricing (US price in USD, outside the US contact a local dealer for pricing.) Prices do not include a dome.

$47,330 portable; $48,950 fixed

(Fixed system purchase includes Universal Console software)

$30,150 portable; $31,770 fixed (Fixed system purchase includes Universal Console software)

$32,995 to $49,995 (portable or fixed)

Digitarium Zeta system.

* Please note that most of the advantages listed in the table above are opinions, which are by nature subjective. Our advice? See demonstrations of these systems. Talk to existing customers, take each for a test drive, and judge for yourself which system meets YOUR needs and budget.

How does a Digitarium system compare to an analog Starlab projector?

The digital technology used in a Digitarium system offers many advantages over portable analog (pinhole) systems like Starlab. For example:

  • A Digitarium system can demonstrate annual motion, including retrograde planetary motion. You can even turn on planet trails to make it easy to see the paths of the planets as viewed from Earth. Portable analog projectors like Starlab are by design limited to daily motion; the sun, planets, and moon cannot move independently of the stars once you set them up.
  • A Digitarium system automatically and exactly positions all celestial objects for you. Starlab users can only approximate planet and lunar positions using a system of mirrors and magnets.
  • A Digitarium system's software accounts for precession of the equinoxes.
  • Almost no formal training is required with a Digitarium system. The system is operated via a handheld remote control with backlit buttons; icons on the buttons help you remember the function of each. You can teach yourself astronomy using the object label buttons and free lesson plans, while the user manual will teach you how to operate the projector.
  • A Digitarium system has an integrated multimedia player which allows you to show your own images or video from a USB drive, CD-ROM, or DVD-ROM. You can even play prerecorded fulldome shows. There is also a video-in port so that you can project directly from another computer, if desired. Starlab offers only a clear cylinder and four pen set for showing your own images—at a cost of $300 USD.
  • A Digitarium system simulates the sky from anywhere on any body in (or near) the solar system without requiring the purchase of additional equipment. Starlab requires the purchase of a separate cylinder (cost: $1100 USD standard, $1995 USD FiberArc) in order to project the opposite hemisphere.
  • A Digitarium system allows you to zoom in and out on anything in the sky, and there are over 100 actual images of deep space objects (DSO) to view. Starlab sells cylinders which show the locations of DSO (cost: $675 USD), but you cannot actually view images of the objects. Plus, Starlab requires you to buy separate northern and southern hemisphere DSO cylinders to cover the entire sky.
  • With a Digitarium system you can show constellation line drawings, artwork, and labels one at a time, all at once, or in groups of your choice, all from the remote control. Line drawings and labels from multiple cultures are built in to the system. The Starlab system requires you to buy a separate cylinder to show artwork (cost: $675 USD), and you cannot show just one at a time. And of course, to cover northern and southern hemisphere constellations or other cultures with a Starlab, you would have to buy separate cylinders.
  • A Digitarium system can display reference lines and grids without requiring extra equipment. Starlab's FiberArc projector can display the cardinal points and meridian, but only certain cylinders can show the ecliptic, celestial equator, and celestial coordinates. Cylinders that display the references cost $675 USD each, and northern and southern hemispheres are sold separately.
  • A Digitarium system's software can be upgraded over the Internet via an ethernet port. This allows Digitarium system users to download the latest features and images over the Internet. Starlab users would need to buy more cylinders or a whole new projector in order to get new images or features.

In short, a Digitarium system offers tremendously more flexibility, capability, and cost effectiveness than a portable analog system. See our products page for more information.


Software Features

What software does a Digitarium system run? Can it run Starry Night, Celestia, The Sky, etc.?

Digitarium systems run Nightshade, simulation software maintained by Digitalis. You can connect a separate computer to the projector to project other applications. However, the application needs to support fisheye rendering (polar projection) to be useful. You also must make sure that this use doesn't conflict with the software's license.

For example, retail versions of the planetarium software Starry Night can not be projected using a Digitarium system because the Starry Night end user license agreement prohibits use with an audience. (There are dome versions which can be used with an audience, but these can not be purchased independently of certain planetarium systems.)

What differences are there between Nightshade and Stellarium?

Read more detail about Nightshade.

Can I save money by using my own computer with your systems?

Our single fisheye lens systems do support projection from a separate computer. However, we do not recommend this as you would miss out on many benefits of buying a complete Digitarium® system, including:

  • You would not have the ease of use of our unique remote control or Universal Console interfaces—the laptop keyboard would be your only interface.
  • You will not have access to the dome projection version of our planetarium software, Nightshade NG, to be released in late 2014.
  • You would not get built-in dome aware multimedia support.
  • You would also need to maintain the operating system and all software yourself. We develop and maintain all of the software on the Digitarium control computer, so there are never any compatibility headaches. We make sure all system software and hardware works properly together before releasing an update.
  • You would not have the ability to easily add large data sets, some of which will only be available for Digitarium systems.
  • There will be no dedicated support team to answer your phone or email questions.

From what culture(s) are the constellation labels, line drawings, and artwork?

Currently we have line drawings, labels, IAU borders, and artwork by Meuris, Bode, and Hevelius for the 88 official Western constellations. We also have line drawings and labels for Polynesian, Aztec, Inca, Chinese, Navajo, Lakota, Inuit, Sami, Norse, and ancient Egyptian constellations, most without artwork.

Users can easily create their own sky cultures for their own use and share this with other Nightshade users. As we add new constellation cultures, we make these available as free software upates.

I don't know anything about the Linux operating system. Will I still be able to use a Digitarium system?

You don't need to know a thing about Linux to run the system. You can't even tell what operating system is running, as the system is operated via a hand-held remote control.

How do I get software and image updates?

Hook your Digitarium system up to an ethernet network with Internet access (see the user manual if you need more information on this), bring up the menu, scroll down to “Administration,” then select Administration sub-item “Update me over the Internet.” The computer will do the rest for you. Software updates are free for the life of your system.

What formats are supported by the Digitarium system's multimedia player?

MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 are the best supported video formats. Almost all image formates are supported, plus WAV and OGG audio. If you have a question about a specific format, contact us.

Are prerecorded shows available for the Digitarium system?

We distribute shows produced by:

Other sources include:

An extensive list of fulldome shows and producers is maintained by Loch Ness Productions.

There is usually no technical reason why any fulldome video show could not be shown on a Digitarium system.  It just needs to be sized appropriately and saved in a supported video format.  Contact the show distributor for availability information.

You can also create your own shows using the StratoScript scripting features of Nightshade on a desktop computer and play these back (including an audio track) on your system.


Inflatable Domes

Can I use my Starlab dome with a Digitarium system?

Yes, a Digitarium system will work with any portable dome. However, if you project anything besides dark starfields you will see the extensive wrinkling in the silver StarLab domes. The reflective surface is also problematic. The Digitalis dome is specifically designed to be used with digital projectors. Our design has fewer wrinkles and no entrance tunnel interrupting the projection surface.

Can I set up a Digitalis dome outside?

No. Setting up a Digitalis dome outside is strongly discouraged. The dome is lightweight and could blow away, harming your audience or equipment, plus the outdoor environment could damage your dome.

Is the Digitalis dome handicapped accessible?

Yes. The dome does not have a solid floor; the wall of the dome wraps around and creates a skirt about 18 inches/45 cm wide which rests on the floor. To admit a person in a wheelchair, simply lift a side of the dome and push the wheelchair under. This process is much easier if you have a second person to help you lift the side of the dome. Once the dome is lowered back to the ground, it will reinflate fully in about one minute.

What is the procedure for an emergency exit from a Digitalis dome?

As mentioned above, Digitalis domes do not have a solid floor, so audiences can exit the dome very quickly by lifting the side and ducking under.


General

How can I see a Digitarium system in use? 

Go to our see one page to review our conference schedule and demo policy.

Can someone at Digitalis help me apply for a grant or sponsorship?

Yes, you can contact Karrie Berglund, Director of Education, for help with funding proposals. However, please first read our funding page to see if it gives you the information you need. Note that we also offer a lease to own program that would allow you to spread the cost of a puchase over multiple budget years to make a purchase easier.

What kind of maintenance is required by the projector and dome?

Most of our systems require very little maintenance. Projector lenses will need to be dusted and possibly cleaned from time to time with a lens tissue and alcohol (see your user manual for more information). Lamps will need to be replaced when they burn out or reach the end of their design life (the projector tracks usage information for you). You should have your system checked for dust accumulation once a year and cleaned if necessary.

Digitalis Domes can be cleaned with a damp sponge if needed.

Is there a warranty for your products?

See our standard three year limited warranty.

Purchasing

How long does it take to get a Digitarium system or Digitalis dome?

Typically one to eight weeks, depending on inventory levels. We try to stock all the products we sell. Contact us for a current turn around estimate.

How do I find out if there is a local distributor in my country?

All of our distributors are listed on our contact us page.

I want to be a sales agent or distributor for your equipment. What do I need to do?

Contact us to discuss the possibility.